With only 15 women pharaohs known to date, the rare phenomenon has always piqued the interest of the world’s historians and archeologists. Hatshepsut left an indelible mark on history, succeeding as a monumental leader, fervent builder, and noble warrior. Despite descending from royal blood, she had to maneuver the gender barrier in order to become a pharaoh. When her husband died, her son was too young to inherit the throne, so she ruled on his behalf and was later crowned king and led Egypt towards great triumph—leaving the reign after two glorious decades to her stepson.
A Show Fit for a King
Her commanding presence can be felt to this day at the Egyptian Museum. All pharaohs had to live up to their title but it was important for women to project themselves as the perfect leader. The secret lies in appearance. If you look like a pharaoh then you are a pharaoh and you take the attributes of the pharaoh which was exactly what Hatshepsut did. The crown, the false beard, and the regalia (king’s clothing) were meant to emphasize her power to the people in the language of symbols due to the largely illiterate population. They could not read royal edicts nor sacred inscriptions. Hatshepsut was brilliant in peddling this propaganda. She tricked her subjects into viewing her as a pharaoh bearing the title of “king”. Wearing a false beard was considered a divine attribute of the gods; all pharaohs had one and Hatshepsut was no exception.
Hatshepsut did not reserve such visually dazzling statements of power, only her appearance. 500 kilometers from Cairo, in Thebes (modern day Luxor), Hatshepsut remodeled the landscape with lavish monuments and buildings. The most famous is her funerary temple at Deir el Bahari. One of the most sacred ancient Egyptian sites, it is a brilliant work of architecture with clean geometric lines contrasting against the rugged mountains—a perfect commemoration of the great Hatshepsut. The setting of the temple is breathtaking but the reasoning goes beyond its aesthetic. The temple stands directly across from the great temple of the god Amun Ra. It’s a place where offerings could be left for her eternal soul rather than disturbing the peace of her tomb. The third reason was that this place was left with scenes chosen by her personally emphasizing and illustrating her right to the throne – making the temple a permanent piece of her political propaganda.
Hatshepsut was not just a builder, she was also a military commander who led two campaigns by herself against Egypt’s enemies in Nubia, which was evident by some of the offerings in El Deir el Bahari hinting at her military capabilities. Texts describe her as a conqueror: “she who will be a conquer flaming against her enemies.” You will find a copper alloy inscribed with her name, symbolizing an axe blade.
A Prosperous Economy
Having proved her military capabilities, Hatshepsut turned her attention to increasing the nation’s economic prosperity by forming international economic alliances. Those alliances poured wealth into Egypt’s trade with countries, especially along the Red Sea. She initiated commerce and stretched Egypt’s trade routes to a larger scale. In her temple you will find a drawing of Egyptians arriving in Punt, greeted by the natives peacefully, depicting images of Egyptians trading valuable goods and precious commodities with the Punts. Egyptologists managed to find an alabaster piece that is over 3500 years old carrying the raisin that she used to trade for, as depicted in scenes inscribed on the walls of El Deir El Bahari, allowing them to grasp a hint of the past contained in a vessel with her name and titles. The details of the scene will give you insight into how Hatshepsut was able to wield so much power and reign for 20 years.
A Grand Gesture in Karnak
Maintaining two decades of peace and prosperity, Hatshepsut could easily be the most successful monarch. As part of her prosperity plan, she commissioned two pairs of pink grate obelisks at Karnak temple. At almost 30 meters high, these obelisks are the tallest in Egypt. Hatshepsut wanted to set up such striking monuments as a tribute to her own father or as per her words “To the one who made me”. However, my father didn’t mean her biological father she meant the god Amun known as the king of all gods to whom the Karnak temple is dedicated. Obelisks were topped with an electrum mix of silver and gold that would capture the first light of the sun at dawn and transmit it to the heart of the Karnak Temple where it could be then distributed for the greater good of Egypt. The Karnak Temple is a huge religious complex where the god Amun was worshipped. It was continually embellished by successive rulers and Hatshepsut made sure to pay her tribute in the most extravagant manner.
The Red Chapel
The Red Chapel of Hatshepsut was a shrine known as the place of the heart of Ammun, the state god then, situated at the center of his temple at Karnak. It was a sacred place where the god’s statue stood and would have been paraded around on procession as per the descriptions on the walls. Bald priests are pictured bringing in the sacred boat containing the statue of the god hidden behind curtains to guard him against the evil eye. The boat was greeted by the two rulers. The young male pharaoh (her stepson) is depicted burning incense to welcome the god’s arrival and Hatshepsut is seen in center stage shining as the child of God. Assisted by the priests, the pharaoh had to personally perform the religious ceremonies to maintain the cosmic order by presenting the offerings and pouring holy waters all around the god’s statue. The holy water channels out beyond the chapel and the god’s protection spread throughout the land.
Some would argue that Hatshepsut was an evil stepmother who masqueraded as a man, dressing up with the false beard of kingship and taking over the right to the throne. Others would consider her a powerful inspiration and an amazing leader who led the way for generations to come. Share your opinion with us on our Instagram.